Bonert, Kenneth. “The Mandela Plot”, Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2018.
As the 1980s come to an end, South Africa is in the midst of political violence with the apartheid regime facing death. Young Martin Helger struggles at elite private boys school in Johannesburg where he really does not fit in. Martin’s father is a rough-handed scrap dealer and his brother is a mysterious legend.
Then one day a beautiful and manipulative American arrives at the family home and Martin is thrown into the struggle. At the same time, secrets from the past begin to come out and old sins come to light and this second-generation Jewish family is torn apart. Martin must rely on alternative strengths to protect himself and fight for a better future.
“The Mandela Plot” is a literary thriller, a coming of age tale, and a journey through a world that entertains and terrifies equally and is deeply resonant for the present.
After Martin becomes infatuated with a slightly older American woman, Annie, who arrives to join the fight against white oppression, everything changes.
There are plot twists and turns throughout as well as a lot of pain. Bonert’s characters and plots are brilliantly drawn and thought out. What is strange is that there were passages that completely bored me. He also writes with grammatical errors. Aside from having several South African friends in Israel, I know nothing about it and that is what kept me reading. I love the story of the Lithuanian Jews who had fled the anti-Semitism in the early 1900’s and had emigrated to South Africa where they found safety and prosperity even as they tackled the racial laws in the country. (Jews were considered “white”, but still not British or Afrikaner. They occupied their own societal level.)
The characters in Martin’s family and outside life are sketchily drawn, mysterious and his Jewish family’s past is dark and hidden at first. As the story moves forward, the personal secrets become more sordid, the personal violence more bloody, the danger increasing as the country slides into catastrophe.